Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Circus - Britney Spears

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It's easy to laugh at Britney and it's fair to say that once again her actual input into this album will have been little more than turning up to sing the lines she's told to. But you know what? For the second album in a row she's comfortably outpaced Madonna. This is everything that Hard Candy wasn't in terms of a great dance-pop record.

In many ways this is an album of two halves. The first is perfectly acceptable glossy pop that never quite takes off like you would want it to. The likes of Womanizer and Kill The Lights are a lot better than most that is served up to us in the name of American Pop. The album has some even better tracks in it's second half, starting with Unusual You, where it gets more adventurous and actually has something interesting to say (again, unlike Hard Candy).

Ok so it's at least four tracks too long, but Britney Spears isn't necessarily an "album" artist. This has more than enough great singles to ensure her ongoing success and sometimes that's enough, no matter what those "proper" music lovers might tell you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top 20 Albums of 2008

20) Lenka (Lenka)
Bright, breezy and sweet pop that could be a little twee for some but had me under it's spell.

19) She Ain't Me (Carrie Rodriguez)
To carry on from the theme of the last entry, if you were disappointed by Sheryl Crow's 2008 efforts, Carrie Rodriguez should certainly cheer you up. Proof that even in these days of cookie-cutter Nashville stars there is still some genuinely emotive Country music knocking about.

18) Not In A Million Years (Beangrowers)
Not the most original album of 2008 I would have to admit but when a band makes as much good use out of it's influences as this, it would be churlish to complain.

17) New York City (Brazilian Girls)
The party record of the year. The fact that the singer Sabina Sciubba sings in at least four different languages on this record only heightens the "anything could happen" feel of the record.

16) Synthetique (Prototypes)
French pop always comes up with something good and this year's electro-goodness came courtesy of Prototypes. There wasn't an album this year that mixed electro-pop, 60s rhythms, folky guitars and punk crunch quite so effortlessly.

15) Curioser (Kate Miller Heidke)
If you spent some part of 2008 lamenting the fact that Natasha Bedingfield had sold her soul to American airplay demographics, you should find some solace in the Australian Kate Miller Heidke. Absolutely barmy, the former opera singer never forgets that its the tunes that make a pop album.

14) Jukebox (Cat Power)
Largely cover versions this may have been, but it was inimitably Cat Power all the way. Proof that she's a genuine talent.

13) Flight Of The Conchords (Flight Of The Conchords)
A comedy record it may be, but it's put together with such obvious affection for the songs that they are sending up that it actually gets better with repeat listens. The only down side is that it can't compete with the sheer genius of the TV show.

12) Get Awkward (Be Your Own Pet)
They annoyed me in concert in 2008, but that doesn't change the fact that this album is a stomper.

11) Sound Soldier (Skye Sweetnam)
It may have been a 2007 album in North America, but it's later release dates elsewhere meet my criteria for this list! Mental bonkers pop that never forgets that pop music is supposed to be fun, which was even more welcome in the year that Girls Aloud went a little too serious.

10) Me And Armini (Emiliana Torrini)
Taking the best bits of her two previous albums and merging them into one great big ball of delight. "Big Jumps" especially is one of my favourite tracks of the year.

9) Rockferry (Duffy)
Adele may get the critics vote (unless you count me as a critic...) but Duffy was the people's choice. Arguably had the year's greatest collection of singles, but there's more to enjoy on the album as well.

8) Pretty Runs Out (Amanda Shaw)
Praise the lord that Amanda Shaw failed to grab the role of Hannah Montana because this major label debut was blissful. Much more than a mere fiddle player, Shaw proved here to be quite the talent, merging Louisiana Jazz with Nashville Country to great effect.

7) I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too (Martha Wainwright)
Some decried that this was more "commercial" than her debut effort, but it was no less effective for that.

6) Alas I Cannot Swim (Laura Marling)
Stunning considering her age, which makes you wonder that if she can be this good now, just how great could she be in the years to come.

5) Count To Ten (Tina Dico)
Ignore anything you may find from 2006 about her on this site as I've finally realised just what a great singer/songwriter Tina Dico is. Count To Ten was her best yet. It was so good that my next door neighbour popped his head over the garden fence when I had this on to ask who it was.

4) Another Country (Tift Merrit)
No one in the UK buys her records, but that's their loss. This was a delightful album borne from serious personal heartbreak. But it never wallows in sorrow and tugs at your heart strings until you have no option but to fall completely for it.

3) Ladyhawke (Ladyhawke)
Paris Is Burning underwhelmed me which kind of led me to dismissing the whole idea of Ladyhawke for a while. But once I got the album I was firmly under her spell. "Electropop" didn't get any better than this in 2008.

2) Acid Tongue (Jenny Lewis)
People who know me are probably sick to death of me praising Jenny Lewis. But she is delightful. Upon reflection I think that Acid Tongue is even better than Rabbit Fur Coat, which is high praise from me indeed! What amazes me about this album is the sheer amount of variety it has on it, without ever missing a beat.

1) Tales Of Silversleeve (Cathy Davey)
Released in her native Ireland in 2007, this only got an official release in England in 2008. So that's why it's in my list. And to be honest, it was the front runner for my number one spot from the moment I heard it. The opening five tracks are probably the best stretch of songs I've heard on an album all year and there is little appreciable drop in quality from there.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


20) Hearts On Fire (Cut Copy)
Ok so Cut Copy's default setting is "try to sound like New Order" but there are worse bands to ape and when you get it right like they do with Hearts on Fire, you can't really complain.

19) Outta My Head (Ashlee Simpson)
She may be fantastically useless but you can normally rely on Ashlee Simpson, or at least the people controlling her, to come up with one good song per album. This may have veered a little too close to Gwen Stefani territory for it to be a coincidence, but this kicked the pants off anything on Madonna's new album.

18) Violet Hill (Coldplay)
You see when people accuse me of being biased, it's really not true. Sure, the video to this did nothing to dissuade you that punching Chris Martin in the face wouldn't be great fun, but not even I would deny that this is a bloody brilliant song. I'm still not sure on the "white snow" thing but it would be churlish to dismiss this song purely on inane lyrics...

17) When I Grow Up (Pussycat Dolls)
If only all pop music was as manic as this. In a year where Girls Aloud went a little bit too serious for my liking (still some good tunes, but without the bizarre nonsensical lyrics) this was a mad, random and funny pop ditty. And it was an pretty damn infectious one.

16) Stepping Stone (Duffy)
The best song of the year that made me cry...

15) The Beginning Of The Twist (Futureheads)
I always like it when fantastically crap bands come out with something amazing. Or at least something that is listenable. It took being dumped by their record label for the Futureheads to do it, but all credit to them.

14) Dusk Till Dawn (Ladyhawke)
I was slightly underwhelmed by Paris Is Burning, namely it didn't live up to the hype, but that proved just to be an aberration as far as Ladyhawke is concerned for me. This was one of those songs which only needed to be heard once for it to lodge itself in my brain. Indeed I think I greatly annoyed people at work with constantly singing "doo doo doo dooo, do doo doo dooo, bang bang bang, on the wall from dusk till dawn" over and over again for about a week.

13) Save The Lies (Gabriella Cilmi)
A proper pop record that did the seemingly impossible...it made Gabriella Cilmi seem interesting. Of course its atypical of her efforts, with most of her album sounding like Sweet About Me but I suppose that's what pays the bills. I would in 2009, mind you, like to see an advert on TV that she HASN'T provided a song for...

12) Boyfriend (Alphabeat)
Another act in 2008 who I didn't really like and I have to admit that their "we're hear to save pop" routine was annoying me before I heard the original version they did of this. But I'm not one to complain about artists changing their sound for commercial reasons, especially when the song is as good as this. For three minutes we're back in the glorious 1980's.

11) Ready For The Floor (Hot Chip)
This had a "mentalist" that was missing from most pop records in 2008. It actually shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

10) I Know Ur Girlfriend Hates Me (Annie)
Ok so the general apathy from the record buying public towards the delightful Annie continued, but that doesn't make this any less of a brilliant pop song. If Kylie had done this it would have been number one for weeks.

9) Guilt (Long Blondes)
Distinctly underwhelmed by the album I may have been, but Guilt was the kind of song which had everything that made you like the Long Blondes in the first place.

8) Love Song (Sara Barellies)
A refreshing antidote to the usual singer-songwriter crap. Simple, but no less catchy for it.

7) I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry)
Hey, when I criticised Katy Perry's very mediocre album, I did say that in the terms of a novelty pop record this is pretty bloody fantastic. Yes I know I also criticised the lyrics as being trite, but I'm allowed a bit of leeway. Who cares if most of the rest of her album is rubbish; this was pop gold.

6) Beat Control (Tilly And The Wall)
Ok, so I first heard this on the Jo Wiley show (honestly, my car radio went to Radio 1 of it's own accord) but I can't hold that against the song can I? Proof that Tilly & The Wall have been unfairly ignored previously.

5) American Boy (Estelle & Kanye West)
The fact that Estelle's follow up single where Kanye West was replaced by Shaggy didn't have half the success that this did perhaps might be telling, but anyone who can get Kanye rapping about WAG's and Ribena gets the thumbs up from me.

4) Spiralling (Keane)
I've always thought Keane were a bit boring and, well, wet. But right from the first "ooh" this is a quality tune. I actually became quite obsessed with this when I first heard it, needing to hear it all the time. Gets extra marks for the "did you want to be an Icon" spoken interlude.

3) My Delirium (Ladyhawke)
Ladyhawke becomes one of only two "artistes" to crack the top 20 twice. I can't really say much more than the fact that this is brilliant.

2) Mercy (Duffy)
Proof positive that you can have all the advance press in the world, but you have to have the songs to back it up. Duffy did have the songs. I would admit that in some senses it's not exactly groundbreaking, but what it is, is a bloody good song.

1) Dance With Me (Dizzee Rascal & Calvin Harris)
I quite like Dizzee Rascal anyway, but it was a stroke of genius to put his lyrical flow to the dance pop beats of Calvin Harris. I doubt that I listened to any other song in 2008 as much as I did this one. And if that's not a reason put it at the top of the list, well I don't know what is.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

It Might Like You - Julia Marcell

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I have to admit to a slight bias here. Female singer-songwriters backed by the piano are certainly good in my book. But in a way it means that Julia Marcell has quite a mountain to climb with me before she's begun. In the shadow of the likes of Fiona Apple and Nerina Pallot, to name just two, something has to be pretty good indeed to stand out to me.

When it works, It Might Like You is indeed pretty damn good.

Tracks like the spiraling Words Won't Save You, the quirky and stuttering Carousel and the charming Fear Of Flying are catchy and just a little different from the generic songs record companies tell you are brilliant but actually fail to excite. Not all of it matches the high standard of those three, but there are no real out and out stinkers that force you to press skip track (at least on the first listen through).

Not to everyone's tastes (but, then again, what is) but fans of the aforementioned females, and those of the likes of Regina Spektor to boot, will find plenty to enjoy here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Made Up Stories - Go:Audio

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The common theme in the reviews I've read seems to be that Go:Audio tread the American punk-pop sounds that are so familiar to anyone who listens to commercial radio these days. For what it is, it's not half bad.

Granted, it never comes close to threatening to be more memorable than the songs it gains its "inspiration" from but it's catchy, melodic and rocks along at a decent pace. The only thing is that it already seems out of date; it's target audience may well prove to have already moved on.

However, it's not a terrible album and anyone who likes "this kind of thing" won't be too upset by their purchase. Why anyone would NEED this album in their collection though when the likes of The Killers and Fall Out Boy do similar things a hell of a lot better is a different question entirely. But lets put it this way, it's a lot better than the likes of Scouting For Girls.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

She Ain't Me - Carrie Rodriguez

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Her time on tour supporting Lucinda Williams is probably going to give you an indication of what Carrie Rodriguez sounds like. A little bit Country mixed in with other disparate influences would be a fair reading of her based on this, her second album.

Kicking off with the bluesy driven Infinite Night, it is clear that Rodriguez isn't your cookie-cutter Nashville star. It's a catchy tune, but the sheer venom in some of the lyrics certainly make you sit up and take notice. And whilst there's nothing else to quite match it, it's safe to say the album contains a few more gems.

El Savador is the song Sheryl Crow has been looking for since The Globe Sessions whilst the title track She Ain't Me is almost good enough to be on a Jenny Lewis album (high praise from me, I might add).

The only real misfire is Let Me In, where Rodriguez goes for raunch but fails to convince.

Other than that one though, the classically trained violinist Carrie Rodriguez has fashioned a very listenable album. Her pleasing slight Texan drawl draws you in and the catchy tunes keep you hooked, for the most part at least.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What Am I Waiting For - Heidi Newfield

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Once in a while an album appears that puts your reviewer in a quandary. I couldn't tell you that Heidi Newfield's What Am I Waiting For is a bad album, not by any means, but I also couldn't honestly tell you that I find it a great one.

Those who like the slower side of modern country will probably lap this up. It's thoughtful, contemplative and a nice enough listen. However, some will find it a little too one paced. It's bookended by two feisty numbers, Can't Let Go and Knocked Up, but large parts of what comes inbetween is deliberately slow paced. If there'd been more like Can't Let Go, I might have loved this album a little bit more but as it is, I can't attach myself to the album.

There is one exception to this. Newfield's tribute to Mr & Mrs Cash, Johnny & June is heartfelt and could almost, almost, bring a tear your eye. Somewhere, if they're listening up there, I'm sure they'd approve.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Carter's Chord - Carter's Chord

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It was perhaps written in the stars that sisters Becky, Emily, and Joanna Robertson would end up in the music business; after all their parents Barny and Carter Robertson, both played in Waylon Jennings road band The Waylors in the 1970s. As you might guess then, this isn't a hip-hop record; the girls have followed their musical upbringing all the way to a good, if not great, debut album.

The three tier harmonies will certainly bring the Dixie Chicks to mind, but as of yet Carter's Chord don't show any signs of offending the Nashville market by going for a more polished, and dare I say it marketable, pop sound. Indeed it's a classic country sounding album all the way and whilst it may not show too much in the way of genuine originality (in common with a lot of modern Country records if we're being nasty) it is a well produced and catchy album that has more than enough highlights to keep most Country fans entertained.

Whether it be the, yes, Dixie Chicks sounding Young Love, the bluesy Song Of Love or the catchy Country-Pop of Boys Like You (Give Love a Bad Name) it's difficult to not tap your feet along to the catchy tunes and impressive harmonies. The best of the bunch may be Different Breed, even if it does remind this listener of Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet.

Whilst I may have bemoaned the lack of originality it's also true to say that this is a cut above the cookie-cutter sound of Nashville that some producers seem intent on serving us with. With their dad helping Toby Keith on the production, they've fashioned something that's both traditional and has unique character. A solid debut that hints at greater things to come.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Virgins - The Virgins

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The hype suggests The Virgins are something akin to The Strokes. Listening to the album, I'm more inclined to think that they're something akin to Maroon 5. Now I'm sure that will be taken the wrong way by anyone who likes The Virgins, but it's not meant to be disparaging in any great sense. Just to say that the Virgins specialise in funky, upbeat pop, not the sometimes pretentious and serious sound of The Strokes.

For what it's worth, the album is catchy and has some tunes that you can't help but sing along too. The problem is that far too little of it reaches out and ultimately grabs you.

If you want half an hour or so of fun that will entertain you whilst you listen to it, then this is a fine record. If you're looking for something a bit more meaningful, you won't hear it here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not In A Million Lovers - Beangrowers

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Well this must be a first for me. I don't think I've ever bought an album by a band from Malta before (although I'm aware that someone will quite possibly point out some obvious band that I've completely forgotten about). Although, to be honest, there's nothing on the album that particularly screams Malta at the top of its lungs.

In fact the immediate thing that comes to mind upon listening to the album is just how much of it you've heard before. There is glimpses of Blondie, snatches of PJ Harvey, moments of Elastica, bombast to rival the Killers...but despite this, there is no denying that the album seems to, well, work. Good Band Bad Name matches sonic beats to pulsating guitars, whilst Quaint Affair gives us a slice of ambient pop.

Of course, the lack of originality can't help but drag the album down a notch, but it would be churlish to complain too much when so much of what is on the album hits the mark to some extent.

Fans of the Postal Service, The Cardigans or even The Pixies will probably find lots to enjoy on Not A Million Lovers. It may not be the most original album you'll hear in 2008, but that doesn't make it any the less enjoyable.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Comme si de rien n'etait - Carla Bruni

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2007's No Promises, made before Carla Bruni became Mrs Sarkozy, was a surprisingly good album considering it's concept. A French-Italian super model setting music to 11 classic poems, including works by the likes of WB Yeats, Emily Dickinson, WH Auden and Dorothy Parker...who wouldn't want to avoid that like the plague?

But here we are, 12 months down the line and Bruni has done it again. Only the one song is in English this time, You Belong To Me, and this proves to be a wise move. The bubbly Je Suis Une Enfant is one highlight, the breathy and sophisticated sound of Le Temps Perdu is another. But in reality there's not really much on the album that you wouldn't want to listen to again and again.

But there is no way that Comme si de rien n'etait can be seen in any other context that being by the wife of the French president, if only to consider the sheer horror of Cherie Blair trying the same after her attempt at a Beatles song in the far east that time. Few will probably care about any political context if we're being honest, unless they are a broadsheet music critic with an agenda, and tackling the album from this perspective does it a disservice. On it's own merits, away from the context of Bruni's very public private life, you can accept it for what it is - another surprisingly good album that will delight and charm you in equal measures.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Volume 1 - She And Him

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Well if Scarlett Johannson can do it, why can't Zooey Deschanel, teaming up with singer-songwriter M. Ward, have a go as well? But whereas Scarlett went for an album largely based on cover versions, only three of the tracks on Volume 1 are covers (and one of those is the hidden track Swing Low, Sweet Chariot).

And, ahem, covering them first would give you a distorted view of the album as a whole. You Really Got a Hold on Me is superfluous at best and whilst the cover of the Beatles I Should've Known Better has some merit, it does come perilously close to pastiche and/or novelty. Luckily the majority of the self-penned tracks are a hell of a lot better.

The vibe is something akin to 60's pop (provided by Deschanel's melodies and lyrics) meets 50's Nashville (provided by Ward's arrangements) with a little bit of folk added in for good measure. Any notions that this is some form of vanity project from the actress is quickly dispelled by the realisation that she can sing (having already proved it to some degree in films, even if most people would remember her singing alongside Will "I'll say the name of my character over and over again because it's so hilarious" Ferrell in Elf) AND has a voice that can fit a number of styles. She can croon on Take It Back just as well as she can be playful on I Was Made For You. Mind you, would you expect anything less from an actress?

For all the positives, I can't say that I find the album a complete knock out; it's a little too slow paced, with faster, more upbeat tracks like This Is Not A Test tending to prove more memorable (a fact not helped by the fact that most of these tracks are at the beginning of the album) and where it's most obvious modern point of reference for comparison, Jenny Lewis' Rabbit Fur Coat had a heart and a soul, Deschanel's lyrics do tend to verge on cliche at times.

Still, it's a strong debut album which certainly leaves you hoping that you will get to hear a Volume 2, with the hope that more pieces of the puzzle may just fall into place next time around.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

New York City - Brazilian Girls

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There's three of them, only one of whom is a Girl, and none of them are from Brazil.

Now that's out of the way, let's get onto the record, their third album. With a multilingual lead singer, Sabina Sciubba, (English, French, Spanish, German are just some of the languages you will hear on this record), it's hard to pin down exactly how to describe the sound of the album such is the wealth of diverse styles that the band attempts to pack into one record. And if this mish-mash leads to an uneven experience it also means that it's a record that is constantly surprising you.

Thus whilst you may not appreciate the pared back sound of, say, Berlin, as much as the more dance and pop end of their spectrum, one such example being the wonderfully silly Good Time, you can't help but be intrigued by how many different sounds you will hear over the 50 minutes of the record.

As CSS unleash a desperately disappointing second album, anyone who was hoping for more from that is sure to be pleasantly surprised by New York City. Fresh, funky, funny and, for the most part, fantastic. This is a party record that is almost guaranteed to get you going.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

One Of The Boys - Katy Perry

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Does it really only take a song about dissing an ex-boyfriend for being metrosexual (Ur So Gay) and one about secret sapphic lust (I Kissed A Girl) to become a star these days? Well it's certainly enough to get Perez Hilton excited and to take Katy Perry towards the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of course one can understand Perry's desperate sounding attempts to garner attention when one considers her childhood; the daughter of two pastors, Perry's first musical venture was a Christian gospel record, released in 2001, and indeed Gospel was the only music she was apparently allowed to listen to. Perhaps the music world would have been better if she'd taken the traditional British route of rebellion, hanging out on the street corner drinking White Lightening.

Make no bones about it, much like with Ida Maria's "naked" lyrics, Perry's global airplay has nothing to do with musical talent, more to do with the idea that her girl-on-girl imagery is funny or in someway shocking, surely passe notions in 2008. Most observers would see the song for what it is; a novelty record.

Things don't really get any better either. There's no doubting that there are a handful of catchy tunes on the album but even those are ruined beyond comprehension by inane and/or ridiculous lyrics that most of the time stirred up nothing other than complete and utter boredom for this listener.

On Fingerprints, Perry says she wants to "break the mold". She hasn't even come close. For all her record company's talk of her "zeitgeist-capturing sassiness" there's nothing on display here to suggest that she's anything other than the novelty one-hit wonder I Kissed A Girl would have you believe.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Me and Armini - Emilíana Torrini

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Emilíana Torrini is now best know for her work on the Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, or perhaps through co-writing Kylie Minogue's Slow, although most would probably still not recognise her name. After a handful of releases in her native Iceland, she first came to wider prominence with 1999's Love In The Time Of Science, a brilliant slice of electronically driven "chill out" music. It was 2005 before she resurfaced on album, with the patchy Fisherman's Woman, a more sparse and acoustically pared back version of Emiliana which failed to totally convince me. It was good in parts but was perhaps a little too gentle for it's own good.

2008's Me And Armini merges the two previous styles with the more gentle side of 2005's album intact but with a little more urgency and pace injected. The end result is really rather good indeed.

Lead single Me And Armini mixes a lilting reggae sound with a blissfully chilled out arrangement and if there was any justice, international airplay would be a certainty. Chances are that it is too unique for that, but that shouldn't spoil your enjoyment of what is a fantastic track.

Other great tracks include Big Jumps, which is quite frankly simply adorable, and the apparent next single Jungle Drum, which adds a vibrancy and excitement to Torrini's sounds that was missing from Fisherman's Woman.

However, as if to attempt to label me a hypocrite, even on a track such as Hold Heart, which is little more than her backed by an acoustic guitar, she proves to be stunning.

Whilst perhaps not quite managing to surpass Love In The Time And Science, this is still a fantastic album which deserves a wide audience.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pretty Runs Out - Amanda Shaw

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It would be easy to be cynical about 18 year old (just) Amanda Shaw. At the age of seven she became the youngest performer ever to solo with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra and in more recent years has cemented a place as a firm crown favourite at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. She also apparently was once in the running for the role of Hannah Montana, having appeared in two Disney movies. On the basis of her debut on Rounder, Pretty Runs Out, we should all be grateful that she eschewed the Disney route because she sounds quite the talent.

Her expert "fiddle" playing, combined with a strong Cajun sound that mixes Louisiana jazz with modern country, saddled with burgeoning songwriting skills make this an impressive first shot at worldwide stardom.

The blues-driven Chirmolito, inspired by two Mexican's who helped to rebuild Shaw's home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is a winner, as is Brick Wall with its, always welcome, trombone backing. It's also hard, after listening to Shaw make it her own, to imagine that Cyndi Lauper could ever have sung I Don't Want To Be Your Friend.

She even excels at instrumentals; French Jig and McGee's Medley are foot-stompers that can't fail to put a smile on your face and Reels: The Gaspe Reel/ Sam's Slammer/ Imogen's Ridge repeats the trick towards the end of the album.

Shaw has a good voice and, more importantly, one that has character. It never sounds too polished and merely ends up sounding like all good voices should; unique and personable.

All in all this is a great major-label debut for Shaw and one which hints at great things to come. Anyone with an open mind will surely fall in love with this album.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sound Soldier - Skye Sweetnam

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Noise From The Basement, Skye Sweetnam's debut album, was one of those albums that was excellent, in a disposable way, without ever getting it's fair due. Albums that were a lot, lot worse ended up selling millions more.

Sound Soldier probably won't reverse her commercial fortunes, but it is a bloody good pop album which shows more invention in the space of one album than the majority of her peers do in entire careers. Yes, the hands of The Matrix and Tim Armstrong are all over the project but Sweetnam has an infectious character than inhabits all her songs and makes you believe she actually had some input into them, rather than them just rolling off the latest conveyor belt.

Whether it's the ska sounds of (Lets Get Movin') Into Action (which, incidentally reminds me of Ant & Dec's finest moment You Betta Watch Out - a good thing I tell ya) or the pop/rock/rap melange of Music Is My Boyfriend, Sweetnam is never anything less than interesting.

They are not the only highlights either; Cartoon is infectiously catchy and has a chorus that will simply lodge itself in your brain (resistance is futile) whilst even her attempt at a ballad in Scary Love isn't that bad.

Yes towards the end the quality certainly drops, but overall this is throwaway pop at it's finest. No matter whether anybody buys it or not.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Fortress Round My Heart - Ida Maria

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Someone I know, mentioning no names, picked up this album in a local music shop, took one look at the "missing link between The Strokes and Amy Winehouse" sticker on the front and put it straight back on the rack. As far as I'm concerned he had a very lucky escape.

First time around all I could stomach was 30 seconds each of the opening four tracks. But I'm nothing if not fair so in the interests of, well, this review I tried again and made it all the way through. Again I was far from impressed.

Make no bones about it, it's the "funny" lyrics to I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked that have got Ida Maria any mainstream attention at all.

Derivative, unoriginal and, frankly, not very good at all. One reviewer suggested she's almost the "female Jack Penate". And to be honest, I would tend to agree. Yes, she is THAT bad.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Structure & Cosmetics - The Brunettes

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Sweeter than a vat of Sugar, The Brunettes hit Sub Pop for their first major release, Structure & Cosmetics. They're also unashamedly purveyors of bubbly, light and breezy pop which, I would imagine you'll generally love or hate. There's not too much room for the middle ground.

Of course I'm now going to disregard that and say that I'm somewhat in the middle. I can certainly appreciate the quirky pop melodies in songs such as Obligatory Road Song but then you come to something like Stereo (Mono Mono) and you can't decide if the twin vocals that lament the singers separation that, naturally, come at you from separate speakers are a touch of genius or a trick too far.

Fans of The Postal Service or Rilo Kiley or The Shins will probably find enough here to delight them, but I have to say that a whole helping of The Brunettes in one sitting is a little too much for my taste.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Donkey - CSS

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It's two years since Cansei De Ser Sexy's album and by the sounds of Donkey, the party is well and truly over.

It's not that it's a dreadful album per se, although it does come close to being labelled that, just that if someone had specifically taken the trouble to eradicate everything that made CSS a thrilling proposition and at the same time wash away all traces of individuality they couldn't have done a much better than this donkey of an album. A cheap shot for sure, but one they set themselves up for.

It was perhaps expected that a professional polish would be added to the proceedings (lets not forget this was a band who when, in 2003, formed didn't know how to play any instruments) given the success of the previous album but it still comes as a huge disappointment that it's so generic and, well, normal.

Granted if you take the handful of decent tracks on here, the likes of Let's Reggae All Night and Move, and replaced the duff songs on the other album with them as a whole you'd have an absolutely brilliant album. But the new tracks would still be the ones that stand out as being a couple of notches below the likes of Let's Make Love (And Listen To Death From Above).

All in all, this is a hugely disappointing listen which has aimed for chart success but merely ended up removing everything that made you love CSS in the first place.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fire Songs - The Watson Twins

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Two years on, I still don't know which one of the Watson Twins it was that I met properly. But in a way, that just makes it all the more "hilario" doesn't it?

Anyway, now that Jenny Lewis has gone back to Rilo Kiley, it's finally time for the Twins to properly step into the spotlight, with Fire Songs, their debut album. Their collaboration with Lewis on Rabbit Fur Coat (an album which no less an authority than my father said was "morbid beyond belief") led to a certain amount of expectation for their full-length debut but it was also difficult to gauge just what an impact they could have on their own.

At first, the overriding impression is one that they are better suited to backing singers than front women. For the first couple of songs, at least, they are in danger of fading into the background of their own songs; not a good sign.

But things do start to pick up with their cover of The Cure's Just Like Heaven and from that point on there are more hits than misses. Map To Where You Are is a slinky number, which to me sounds like it's from the soundtrack of some spaghetti western (I mean that in a good way), Sky Open Up is an atmospheric belter and Bar Woman Blues may sound like a typical MOR 1970's throwback...but bloody hell it's a good MOR 1970's throwback.

I think the criticism that The Watson Twins at times get lost on their own record is, sadly, a fair one in parts and there's nothing on here that matches up to the best cuts on their record with Jenny Lewis, but it remains a very promising debut and certainly leaves you hoping that you haven't heard the last of the Watson Twins.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bittersweet Symphony - Jade Valerie

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I can allay your fears straight away; this has absolutely nothing to do with Dickie Ashcroft.

Sometimes I kinda miss the early-mid 1990's. You could be fairly certain that some Scandinavian pop gem would blast the charts for a few weeks before the act in question disappeared quicker than they'd come to your attention.

Jade Valerie isn't Scandinavian (she was born in America) and has had precious little western success (as lead singer for Sweetbox, it was mainly Asia that succumbed) but there are certainly some songs on her debut full-length album that have the sort of appeal that I mention above.

The likes of No, You Don't and Undone are hardly going to be remembered as pop classics, but they are the kind of song that lodge in your brain sufficiently to the point where you're humming along hours after you last heard them.

As ever, when we get to the balladry things get very dull, very quickly, but as I've said before anyone who buys a pop album specifically for the ballads is asking for trouble.

Still if you like a bit of pop, don't mind the umpteen classical tunes thrown in, and want a bit of a good time, however fleeting, you'll not be too disappointed with this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Waves & Both Of Us - Charlotte Sometimes

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If you were sat at home this morning thinking "what I really need to hear is an American Amy Studt" then I may have found the artist just for you.

20-year-old Jesse Poland is a young and talented singer-songwriter who will no doubt in a good few years time regale us of how she didn't really want to go the "all out pop" route that personified her debut album. Which is a pity in some ways because, like Studt's False Smiles, whilst The Waves & Both Of Us isn't packed with wall to wall stunners, it's an accomplished, and occasionally really rather good, album.

Pick of the bunch are AEIOU, a slinky little number with a ridiculously catchy chorus and funny lyrics (it's her version of Misfit, but even better), In Your Apartment (which draws me in, anyway, with its brass backing - this must be brass band week here at The Music Room) and Sweet Valium High, which is the kind of thing that Lily Allen would kill for on her upcoming second album.

Occasionally the production is just a little too glossy for it's own good, as if somebody somewhere wants to knock out every bit of individualism out of her and there are some ordinary songs to endure, but when it's right, it's bang on.

In years gone by, this would have been regarded as a great starting point for a pop career; in the 21st Century it's probably not going to sell enough and she'll be dumped by her record label as result. But such is the price we pay for "progress" right?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Somewhere In The Real World - Vanessa Amorosi

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Ok, so I picked this up thinking it was some new young ingenue that I'd never heard of. Imagine my surprise then when I looked her up on Wikipedia and found that this was her fourth studio album and she'd already had a greatest hits CD out as well.

If you're looking for something to compare it to, we're probably talking Kelly Clarkson before she started to believe her own hype a little too much. Which means that it's not perfect, but it has more than enough pop delights to keep you entertained.

I really liked A Little Love, even before the totally ace Sax riff starts coming in towards the end; simply it's the kind of song Kylie should be doing (and would no doubt top the charts for weeks if she did). My House, which also has brass on it (always a winner), is another funky stomper which has something a lot of pop music doesn't have these days...a sense of humour. It's also just a little bit naughty, which is also always a good thing. I Want Your Fire is also another funky dance track which hits all the right spots.

Of course, this being a "modern pop album" TM there has to be ballads, and they're not very good. But I don't buy a pop album for the ballads, so I'm never going to listen them to again anyway.

I couldn't really recommend this as a "must buy" as there isn't really enough to justify the purchase cost, but if you're a little flush this month or can find someway to lay your hands on the standout tracks, this is well worth a little bit of investigation.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Count To Ten - Tina Dico

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Perhaps better known for her collaborations with Zero 7, Count To Ten is Tina Dico's fourth album, and the follow up to 2006's Into The Red. If there is any justice in the world (thanks Lemarr) Tina Dico might finally get recognised more for her own work.

If acoustically-tinged pop is your thing then there will be much to delight you within the tracks here. On The Run is a gently rocking track that moves from it's 60's-esque guitar backed verse into a stomping sing-a-long chorus, My Business is the hit-single Sheryl Crow has been looking for for the past decade, Everybody Knows is a an emotional tear-jerker and Open Wide had my next-door neighbour looking over the fence (quite literally) and asking me who the artist in question was.

Things do get a little pedestrian at times, and you do find yourself wishing that Dico would rock out just a little bit more at times, but this is still a very good record. Intelligent lyrics, catchy melodies and a compelling voice, Tina Dico has everything you could want in spades.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Youth Novels - Lykke Li

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As the old joke never went, you don't have to be Scandinavian to musically conquer the UK, but it helps. Hence Swedish 22-year-old Lykke Li and her debut album Youth Novels.

Much of the anticipation for this album is down to recent single Little Bit. Listening to it it was almost a "Young Folks with a bit more of a dancey vibe" (not surprising considering it bears the influence of co-producer Bjorn Yttling, one third of Peter Bjorn and John) but I couldn't quite make my mind up whether it was charming and ever so slightly adorable or whether or not it was highly irritating. On balance, it just about worked it's way into the former category. The question, to my mind at least, was whether or not an entire album could follow suit.

Alarmingly, I only got two tracks in, with Dance, Dance, Dance to get worried that the album was going to fall firmly into the "irritating" camp. With it's similar sensibilities to Little Bit, but zero of that song's charm, it's not something I can enjoy listening to. Quite frankly, I couldn't find the skip button fast enough.

But thankfully, there is more to Lykke Li than this would suggest. I'm Good I'm Gone does sound, ahem, a little bit like something Feist would do, but there's no denying it's a catchy tune; Tonight is a melancholic and sparse track that underscores her strengths. Breaking It Up's vocal chorus makes it stand out and she saves the best for last with Window Blues. The spooky backing and simple two-note piano riff combine to make an excellent end track (and as you know, I can never resist a girl speaking/singing in French).

There's enough of a variety of good tracks to make this very much a worthwhile listen; sadly there's also just enough that's irritating and cloying. Still, first time around, you can't expect everything to hit the mark.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tales Of Silversleeve - Cathy Davey

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It's easy to be flippant isn't it? Yet another female singer-songwriter, following up a critically praised but, outside her native Ireland, slow selling debut album. But please, stay with me. For a start this isn't your typical dross, forced on us by record companies chasing the next easy pound for their accounts.

Wit, invention and rhythm are lacking in a lot of modern music (of course, really they're not, but I'm making a point here), three things that Tales Of Silversleeve has in spades.

In fact if I hear a better opening to an album than the first five tracks on here, (Sing For Your Supper, Reuben, The Collector, Moving, Mr Kill) then I will, quite literally, eat my hat. Sing For Your Supper is, simply, a beautiful love song but has so many levels that I couldn't possibly begin to list them all here. Reuben is a piano driven stomper and is the kind of thing that Scouting For Girls might come up with if they weren't a tool of the devil designed to lure 12 year old girls into buying a "proper" record. Indie comes next, with the delightfully jaunty The Collector and just when you think you've got as close to working her out as you are likely to, Moving steps in, with a dancey vibe (technical term that) to totally shatter your conception of what Davey is capable of. Then she changes tack, with the fantastic baseline of Mr. Kill, a funky groovetapper if ever I've heard one.

What follows the amazing opening quintet isn't half bad either. In fact it's probably only that the first five tracks are SO excellent, that you even notice there is an ever so slight drop in quality. And if we're being honest, anything from track six onwards would still be the best song on Adele's album by a country mile.

It even has a 60's style track, Rubbish Ocean, to please those looking for the next thing to take Amy Winehouse's place if she ever gets around to dying from that drug overdose.

And whilst some might argue, and not entirely without merit, that her musical promiscuity stops the album from having an overriding identity of it's own I would take the opposite view. Tales Of Silversleeve is too good to be allowed to limit its scope. Better records may come along in 2008, but I'd be surprised if any are better than this.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Weezer - Weezer

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Or the "Red Album" if you're losing track as this is the third self-titled Weezer album out of six. It's also the first since the debut (the Blue Album for those keeping track) to see Rivers Cuomo slightly loosen his autocratic leading of the band to let his bandmates show us their own songwriting chops.

Things didn't seem all that promising at first; not only were there rumours that this album was to see a highly experimental Weezer but record label Geffen were apparently of the opinion that the album didn't have any hits on it. The result was Pork and Beans, the album's lead single and one written entirely as a sly knock to the label's opinions. "Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts" sneers Cuomo, "maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art". Ironically, of course, it turned out to be Weezer's biggest American hit in years.

Long-term Weezer fans are certainly catered for here; alongside Pork and Beans the likes of Troublemaker

That said, there are definite departures from what you might expect. Heartsongs, which sees Cuomo list the songs and artists that have shaped his musical identity may eventually "rock out" but it's lilting and saccharine sounds take some getting used to. Nothing I write could amply explain The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations On A Shaker Hymn) to you but if you imagine six minutes of sonic eccentricity that takes in such different musical styles as metal, hip-hop, male voice choir, folk and glam rock then you get some idea of the huge scale we're talking about. More amazingly, it's a catchy track too.

Of the band members contributions, I Thought I Knew is passable, but nowhere near becoming a Weezer classic, Cold Dark World is plodding and only drummer Patrick Wilson's Automatic comes close to matching the best of what Cuomo can deliver.

Naturally, the "Red Album" is no Pinkerton (still Weezer's finest collective moment for me) but, to put it into perspective, it's nowhere near the disappointment that was Maladroit. It might not convert to many new listeners to Weezer, but those of us that have been with them for over a decade will find much to enjoy on this fine collection.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

21 - The Mystery Jets

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The Cure, Tears For Fears, The Cars, Duran Duran...if there's one thing this album is guaranteed to do it's to remind you of the 1980's.

Recent single Two Doors Down was one of those classic divisive pop hits. Some would appreciate it for what it is (a catchy pop hit) whilst others would probably be unable to look past the obvious 80's sound (complete with gratuitous sax solo) that it undoubtedly represents. Those of you who land in the "hate" category for this one might as well steer clear of MJ, which almost transcends into parody.

Lead single, Young Love, was, on the other hand, criminally overlooked by most, but is one of the better songs on the album. Laura Marling pops in to lend a hand and whilst it may be very much one of those "boy meets girl" style songs, it's one of the better examples of that mini-genre. It's got feeling, which is rare in a modern day pop song and, like the other standout tracks on the album such as Half In Love With Elizabeth and Veiled In Grey, it is completely devoid of cliche.

It's not a trick that they can completely keep up for the entire album and towards the end there is a definite lull. It's not to say that the lesser tracks are awful, but they are overshadowed by the brilliance on display elsewhere.

Still, a good album with a handful of excellent tracks is certainly worth the investment in my opinion.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

LIttle Dreamers - Beth Rowley

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Beth Rowley has been knocking about for a good few years; is it any surprise that her big breakthrough (this album debuted at number 6 in the UK charts) has come hot on the heels of the 2nd tranche of "Amy Winehouse followers" (Duffy, Adele et.al.)? Perhaps not, but it's no reason to hate her, or be dismissive of what is a decent album.

It's at its best on the more, dare I say it, old fashioned entries. Almost Persuaded with its simple piano backing is a winner, as is her version of Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" (featuring Peter Wilson of Duke Special fame).

When she, or her producers, try to take things in a more contemporary "pop" route, the gloss adds nothing to the proceedings. A case in point is So Sublime. It's pleasant, but doesn't make enough of the undoubted talent Rowley has.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flavours Of Entanglement - Alanis Morissette

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On the plus side, we can at least rejoice in the fact that Alanis Morissette has remembered how to pack in a tune on Flavours of Entanglement. Indeed musically it is perhaps her most immediate collection since Jagged Little Pill, not that her rabid fans would want to see another review making comparisons to that monster of an album from whose shadow she will never truly escape.

The problem is that her lyrics are as dreadful as ever. Her fans would call them simple and profound, but simplicity in itself in nothing if the insights into her personal life (the album largely concerns her breakup with actor Ryan Reynolds) are surrounded in enough psycho-babble to confuse even the most attentive counsellor.

Still, its a fairly pleasant listen as long as you don't pay TOO much attention to it. And at least she's largely stopped trying to fit a hundred words into a line with only enough room for five.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Angles - Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip

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As good as Thou Shalt Always Kill was, there was always the danger that it would prove to be a one off novelty for Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip. That the follow up single, The Beat That My Heart Skipped, made it as my top single of 2007 proved that there was life beyond novelty for the duo, but still the doubts remained. Could they sustain the "phat beats" (I believe that's what they are called these days) and the lyrical witticisms over the course of a full album.

The answer is "not quite" but they come perilously close.

Lyrically, Scroobius Pip certainly has a lot to say and a lot of it is worth listening to. You may not always agree with what he says (although, really, who can argue with "thou shalt not read NME"?) but there is little in the way of banality. And Dan Le Sac matches the brilliance of the lyrics step for step with some amazingly catchy tunes.

Of course not everything hits that spot, and there are a handful of tracks where the skip track function becomes necessary, but overall this is a very good debut album indeed.

And lets face it, where else are you going to find a song dedicated to Tommy Cooper in 2008? And though I know of a good friend of mine who would totally disagree (Hello Jazz Hands) "beauty is more than a nice pair of tits".

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cat Power LIVE

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Notoriously a reluctant live performer, it was somewhat of a surprise when I saw that Cat Power was playing in Manchester; indeed her last few visits to this country have seen her play one date in London and then bugger off back home. All I can say now is, it was definitely worth the wait to see her.

In an era where "attitude" is almost a prerequisite for an aspiring musician, Chan Marshall's continuing fragility and near-shyness is a breath of fresh air. For once the music was allowed to speak for itself.

The set list drew heavily on recent covers album Jukebox, and also tossed in varying other cover versions (Tracks Of My Tears, All I Have To Do Is Dream). Not that you would immediately recognise them as cover version, such is the transformation. Few artists could make an iconic a song as New York New York sound as if it had been written just for them. Backing band Dirty Delta Blues Band were in top form although occasionally they threatened to drown Marshall out.

The only complaints were an over reliance on said cover versions and the fact that, for once, an artist gave TOO much value for money. After an hour and a half, people started to drift away and I have to admit that even your esteemed reviewer was looking at his watch and wondering if Marshall had ever heard about leaving your audience wanting more.

Still, it was a night that was hard to beat. Beguiling and refreshingly "showbiz" free; this was certainly a concert to remember.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Perfectly Clear - Jewel

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It was perhaps only to be expected that Jewel would deliver a "Country" album; perhaps it's a case of her "making the record she's always wanted to do" (as she suggested with the, I think, unfairly maligned 0304) or perhaps its an attempt to carve out a new audience. Long term it's impossible to tell if this is a single flight of fancy or a concerted move into new territory. Perhaps that will depend on record sales.

Things don't look good with opener Stronger Woman. If you were looking to set down a Female sung Country cliche in four easy minutes, you couldn't go far wrong with this. The sense is one of Jewel playing a Country star, rather than actually being one. It's a feeling that album struggles to shrug off.

Occasionally the pastiche is tossed aside to deliver something genuinely lifting, the main case in point being the title track, even if it seems to be little more than a Country retelling of one of her early hits, Foolish Games. I Do is another one that hits the right spot.

All in all this is far from a terrible album and there is no denying that Jewel has the ear for a catchy melody; the problem is as I've mentioned earlier, you're left with the feeling that she's merely "playing" at being a Country star, right down to the, at times, comedic attempts to effect a southern drawl.

Maybe if Country proves to be a long-term proposition for Jewel, she can get it right next time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Julianne Hough - Julianne Hough

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I'm reliably informed that Country music's Julianne Hough is a two-time winner of Dancing With The Stars in America (and I'm assuming by that, she's a professional dancer); which doesn't really bode well for this album, until one realises that she's not some "past-it" fading star looking for one last pay-day before riding into obscurity forever. Indeed, Julianne is 19, and this is her debut album.

So momentum is on her side, but does she deliver enough to capitalise it? The answer is "not quite" it seems.

There's nothing to particularly dislike on this album, but precious few moments that jump up and grab you by the throat. Occasionally, on tracks such as That Thing In My Head and About Life, you think that she may well have a future, but there's too much in the way of banal lyrics, delivered with complete and utter sincerity, to leave the kind of impression that she would wish for.

Still, she seems a likable soul and could one day deliver something really worth listening to.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Pink And The Lily - Sandi Thom

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It's easy to mock Sandi Thom. I should know, I've done it enough.

But really, was it her fault she was hyped to buggery over the "webcast" thing? Probably not, and it's worth noting that the majority of people who objected to her success on that score will all be fans of other artists who have come to prominence on similar levels of promotion.

Of course none of this makes up for Punk Rocker, one of the worst songs in living memory to have got anywhere near the top of the charts and it is fair to say that Thom has little that stands her out from the pack.

But what she does, she does to reasonable effect. Pleasant enough, without ever really threatening to become a vital listen, Thom does at least have an ear for a melody and certainly has a voice that is better than her detractors would give her credit for.

In the form of Devil's Beat she has at least one good song, but sadly there's nothing on her second album that matches up to that one. Too often, the album is lyrically laughable (and that's most certainly not the intention) and really there's little here that you would seek out for a second listen.

But really, in terms of the dross that is out there, Thom is by no means the anti-Christ some would have you believe. After all, banal lyrics set to pleasant tunes haven't done Coldplay any harm have they?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bat For Lashes LIVE

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A new band and a high-profile Radiohead support slot meant that Natasha Khan needed to take Bat For Lashes on the road for a small handful of "warm-up" shows. I can be eternally thankful that Liverpool was chosen as one of the venues.

Because, quite frankly (and despite not being able to see very much of the stage at all "thanks" to the dreadful sight lines in the Carling Academy 2) this was one of the best concerts I've seen in a long, long time.

The old songs had been given a "beefier" edge, which one can only presume was to ensure that the songs don't get lost in the cavernous stadiums that they'll be playing in with Radiohead, and the new songs, of which there were four, sounded very good indeed. In fact they made it seem as if the follow up to Fur & Gold has chances of surpassing the delights of the debut.

After the show, Natasha was as delightful as ever (and thanks to Alan for taking about two minutes to snap the necessary pictures) and even more than ever you were left feeling that Khan is a national treasure and, once again, just how ludicrous it was to pass her over for the Mercury Prize in favour of the Klaxons.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Girls Aloud LIVE

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It's not often a night out entails getting mocked by teenage girls, getting chatted up by a gay bloke and being accused of going out with a 14 year old girl...but what can I say? Strange things happen at Girls Aloud concerts.

It's no secret that I love Girls Aloud; in terms of fantastic pop records, they have few equals. It matters not, to me anyway, that the girls themselves have little to do with the process (they famously disagreed with Love Machine as a single). A fantastic pop song is a fantastic pop song.

But "live" that isn't always enough.

And whilst you cannot deny that the majority of the classics were there, and that the spectacle itself was, well, spectacular there has always been something missing when it comes to Girls Aloud in the flesh. And this was no exception.

From a personality point of view, the girls leave a little something to be desired and so any in-between song banter is perfunctory at best, and as ever the ballad's section was the cue for quite a few people to have their piss-break.

But, the girls looked like they were having fun, the majority of the crowd were having the time of their lives and there was enough quality pop tunes to make it a good night. But, perhaps to the delight of many snobby music critics, the Girls Aloud "live" experience is far from essential.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

...Earth To The Dandy Warhols...

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Ever since the critically mauled, and poor selling, Welcome To The Monkey House, The Dandy Warhols seem to have eschewed any notion of radio-friendly hits in favour of "out there" psychedelia. Which is something of a sad notion to me. Whilst Monkey House may have been a step too far towards mainstream gloss (although I still think it was an album that had more than it's fair share of moments), Come Down and Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia managed to meld catchy melodies with a more "credible" (I use that term under duress) ambiance.

And if their sixth studio album isn't as disappointing as Odditoruim or Warlords Of Mars was last time out, it still can't be said to be a return to form.

As even the worst of the Dandy Warhols back catalogue, Earth To The Dandy Warhols has its moments, primarily The Legend Of The Last of The Outlaw Truckers and Mis Amigos, far too often it descends into what I would probably describe as noise for the sake of it.

Next time around, if I'm still listening by then, I'd appreciate a few more tunes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cha Cha Cha - Tilde

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Tilde is from Denmark. I know little more about her than that salient fact. What I do know however is that if you like your pop-tinged electronica, then you will find much to enjoy on her album Cha Cha Cha.

If Calvin Harris was a woman, and was Scandinavian rather than Scottish you might imagine him sounding a little something like this. The likes of Feet Turn To Stone and Multiply tread that fine line between "electronica cool" and "pop melody" superbly, and the album never threatens to drag. Tilde's breathy vocals add another layer of, erm, niceness to the proceedings as well.

All in all, this is a good album, with more than enough in the way of "potential hits" to warrant a listen.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Feist LIVE

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Well that's what an I-Pod advert can do for you. Last time around in Manchester Leslie Feist played in front of around 300 people. This time around the Palace Theatre was full to the brim, packing at least two and half thousand people in.

Yet despite the new found adulation, and the aisles of the Palace were well and truly rocking, this particular listener couldn't quite shake the feeling that something was missing. There is no doubt that Feist is a genuine and unique talent but on this occasion she failed to keep my attention for the full 90 minutes.

The "shadow puppetry" was a nice touch but at times was a little too distracting; whether that was a fault of the production itself or symptomatic of problems with the front-woman herself, is down to personal interpretation.

The versions of her more mainstream (and dare I say listenable) songs were a little leaden (her vocal was almost lost in the noise of My Moon, My Man and Mushaboom lacked the charm of the recorded version) and it's perhaps telling that I was most captivated when her band left the stage and Feist was well and truly centre stage.

You may think from all this that I didn't enjoy it, but quite the contrary, I did. It's just that it didn't match up to last year's visit to Manchester. But anyone going to see her this time around shouldn't worry; Feist still serves up a unique and intriguing night of music.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

One's Not Enough - Femme Fatality

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A couple of tracks into this album you might be sat there thinking "this is alright". Please, ladies and gentlemen, don't be fooled. It's not.

It's repetitive, moronic and not very good. I suppose those of you with an "electronica" leaning might see some merit in it, but there's a hundred and one other similar acts out there would surely would deserve your custom more.

One's not enough? No. One is one too many.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Blue God - Martina Topley Bird

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One might argue that Martina Topley Bird is more famous for the people she's worked with (Gorillaz, Tricky, David Holmes, The John Spencer Blues Explosion and Mark Lanegan to name a few) rather than as an artist in her own right. If that's a true statement, things aren't likely to change with her new album The Blue God.

With uber-hot producer Danger Mouse behind the decks, it's certainly fair to say that there's a lot of variety on show but the vast amount of sounds that Topley Bird tries on mean that the album lacks a cohesive whole.

The likes of Phoenix show just how special this album could have been and on Carnies she perhaps come up with her best pop melody to date. Far too often though the albums seems to play safe; there's nothing offensive, but there's little that makes you sit up and take real notice of the album as it's playing.

Still, I'm sure another high profile collaboration will be along soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Killing My Darlings - Amanda Jenssen

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Ok, I know. You're rolling your eyes again. Some random pop bint you've never heard of turns up on this blog...what can I say; you're going to be even more cynical when I tell you she was the runner up in the 2007 version of Swedish Idol.

If I were being lazy, I'd introduce you to Amanda Jenssen as the Swedish Duffy or Amy Winehouse. And to be fair, that's not too far off the point. You might want to toss in a bit of Adele as well, but I wouldn't want to put anyone off their tea.

So having pretty much confirmed that the trendy kids are not going to be listening to it the only question is whether or not it's any good. And I'll be honest; it's not great and it's not particularly inventive. BUT, and you probably knew that was coming, any lovers of a bit of throwaway pop will certainly have a good time here.

Amarula Tree is a cheery romp which has horns on it (which automatically makes a song good don't you know) and is so very instantly catchy and For The Sun is something Amy Winehouse might even be proud of. In fact when the album is in "upbeat" territory, you'll enjoy yourself. Sadly there is a preponderance of ballads, most of which aren't exactly very good. So it's not one to go to the ends of the earth to listen to, but if you do happen to come across it you're bound to add a couple of tracks to your MP3 player.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too - Martha Wainwright

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Well at least the "Album Title of the Year" title can be wrapped up early in 2008.

Martha Wainwright's debut album was one of the best debut's that we've had this century; it may have been a difficult listen at times, but in many ways that made it all the more compelling. If there's one singer-songwriter out there at the moment willing to tell us what she really thinks, without filtering out too much of the interesting stuff, it's Wainwright.

I Know You're Married... is, lyrically, more of the same, but with an added commercial surety. Whether or not this is seen as a good thing depends on your point of view. Me? Well I've never seen anything wrong with wanting to sell more records. Especially when she's kept what was so great about her in the first part largely intact.

Whether it's nailing unrequited love on Bleeding All Over You, putting 911 into perspective on The Tower Songs or chronicling her mother's recent battle with cancer on In The Middle Of The Night, Wainwright is never less than a compelling narrator.

Her strengths of course will be labelled as her weaknesses by some critics, and that is fair enough. I've said before that Wainwright, like all of her family clan, is somewhat of an acquired taste. But whatever way you look at it, this album is breathtaking and is further proof that Martha may well prove to be the best Wainwright of them all.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Flight Of The Conchords

Now they're a proper band, with a proper music promo video...

Friday, May 16, 2008

We Started Nothing - The Ting Tings

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Having been there "at the beginning" (that is to say, turning up to a gig and wondering who the hell this man and woman were as a support act) perhaps it would be cool for me to proclaim just how great this album is. After all, that seems to be the considered opinion.

And yes, singles Great DJ and, especially, That's Not My Name certainly suggested that the passing of Jules De Martino and Katie White's former band Dear Eskimo may well have been a good thing. Of course, the cynics would suggest that the backlash against the music industry which has, in the end, proved more than adept at whipping up the Ting Tings hyperbole is already irrelevant.

Sadly, having heard the two singles in question, you have probably heard the best of what's on offer. On occasion, such as the insanely catchy Fruit Machine (which ironically was a much less publicised single) they threaten to really hit the heights, but rarely do they pull it off. As a throwaway summer pop album (and I don't mean that in a bad way) it's got more than enough to keep you entertained, but it does grow tiresome in parts and at the moment, anyway, isn't bearing up to repeat listens by this listener.

We Started Nothing may well be an ironic nod to the many influences on show; it also may prove to be The Ting Tings epitaph. They may have caught the zeitgeist, but whether or not they can capitalise on that in the long term is a question that the album doesn't answer satisfactorily. Will the rest of us care when the cool kids have decamped onto the "next big thing"? Only time will tell.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Synthetique - Prototypes

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Prototypes are a Parisian band formed in 2003. Their press release tells me that they make "a joyful and hybrid music, sexily sung in French (mostly), mixing altogether the many influences of the band: from electro-pop, 60s rhythms, folky guitars and sometimes a punk crunch to add to the equation!"

Sounds right up my street!

And for the most part it is. It's an eclectic mix but one that work. I suppose that it's reminiscent of another of my great discoveries, Cansei de ser Sexy. (I say that tongue in cheek boys and girls). The tunes are so instantly catchy that it matters not that I haven't a clue what the singer Bubble Starr is going on about.

Even the track Something manages to stay banging for 7 minutes without getting in the slightest bit boring. I have to admit that I prefer them when they are sticking more to the "electro-pop" vibe and some of the more experimental tracks, whilst interesting, lack the "hit" factor.

My personal favourites Something, Clap Your Hands (which is like a mental cover version of Tainted Love), Synthetique and Un Coup De Langue. If the blurb at the start of this review sounded like your kind of thing, give it a try - you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Anywhere I Lay My Head - Scarlett Johansson

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Paris Hilton makes a record and is pilloried from pillar to post; Scarlett Johansson on the other hand, despite her Justin Timberlake video cameo's seems to get the benefit of the doubt. Nothing to do with the fact that this is largely an album of Tom Waits songs. And the fact she's roped in a "hip" producer (Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio), has one of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on guitar and managed to rope in David Bowie in on backing vocals.

The NME love it, which isn't as surprising as it may seem. It's an event record, just one that happens to be padded out with a better supporting cast than the majority of Hollywood Actresses vanity projects. Although I'd be interested in how they would view it if a less "cool" actress had made the exact same record.

Her singing isn't bad (but then is no better than, say, Lindsay Lohan's) but as if to make up for the obvious deficits the production at times seems keen to drown her out, or at least make her a peripheral character in her own album. It's no bad thing as she doesn't have the character of voice to carry proceedings on her own.

All in all it's not bad. It's been lovingly crafted, offers up some interesting version of Waits' songs and the one new track, Song For Jo, does suggest that there might be mileage in a prolonged Sitek/Johansson musical relationship. But in the final analysis, it's an interesting curiosity - nothing more. This is not a record that normal music listeners with no need to seem cool will love.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Flight Of The Conchords - Flight Of The Conchords

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The Flight of The Conchords TV series was perhaps the one thing since Peep Show that I simply had to watch every week. Of course I didn't actually watch it every week as my attention span simply doesn't extend that far; I did buy the DVD though and watched the entire series over a weekend.

I don't throw this word about with gay abandon, but on this occasion it's more than justified. Flight of The Conchords was/is GENIUS. Quite apart from it being the funniest thing on TV, it's musical parodies were so spot on that you couldn't help but laugh. This CD brings the best of them to your home CD player in crystal clear stereo.

Be it the Pet Shop Boys stylings of Inner City Pressure, the Barry White-aping Buisness Time, the French Bossanova of Foux du Fafa or the Kraftwerk-esque Robots, virtually every song hits that sweet spot. It's funny AND musically accomplished.

Of course I would have to admit that it's not quite the same as watching it on TV or catching their side-splitting stage show but if it falls short from the genius on display there, its only by the merest of fractions. As funny as it is catchy, this is simply sublime.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Age Of The Understatement - The Last Shadow Puppets

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In the crush to acclaim the side project of Artic Monkeys figuregead Alex Turner as some work of genius a couple of points seem to have been lost. There is no way that The Last Shadow Puppets are going to out-sell the Monkeys, and its a dangerously thin line between homage and pastiche.

And however much you make like this album, it's difficult to escape from the fact that it may ape the likes of Lee Hazlewood and Scott Walker but it never really threatens to break out from that shadow.

The plus points are that it is a very effective pastiche and, clocking in at just over half an hour, it breezes past without dragging.

Still, as accomplished as it is, it lacks that X-Factor and you can't help feeling that if a unheard of Joe Bloggs presented this to the world the clamour to acclaim it wouldn't be as strong. Still, it will tide you over until Turner unleashes the next Monkeys album.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Bittersweet World - Ashlee Simpson

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It's no real secret that I think that Ashlee Simpson is, ahem, a bit of alright but the real interesting factor on the release of her third album, Bittersweet World is that is come at roughly the same time as Madonna's Hard Candy. Intriguing as both make copious use of Timbaland and The Neptunes (with Madonna siding with Pharrell as Ashlee makes use of Chad Hugo) at the production helm.

What is most interesting is that whilst Madonna has gone straight for the obvious, radio friendly sound, Ashlee Simpson has been pushed in the direction of the more interesting and, dare I say it, less ordinary sound. So whereas Madonna's album is chock full of exactly what you would expect, Bittersweet World surprises at almost every turn.

Lead single Outta My Head was a fine slice of 80's influenced pop and it's hardly the only thing worth listening to on here. Boys, Rulebreaker and Murder are the kind of things that snobby music critics would find some merit in if Kylie/Gwen Stefani/Rhianna did, but it's probably true that Simpsons' deleterious public image automatically rules out any praise.

Like her previous albums, it's in no way a "must-hear" album but like her previous efforts it contains enough catchy pop tunes to make it somewhat of a worthwhile listen. She may be totally directed by her expensive producers and she may not have much to say that is worth listening to, but that's not done Madonna any harm for the past decade.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Drink & A Quick Decision - Grand National

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As opening track Reason To Hide In slides its way along, expectations rise for Grand National's second album, A Drink & A Quick Decision. So much so that you begin to overlook the Hall & Oates inspired album title itself. It's really a rather good opener.

The problem is that too little of the album that follows matches up to that high standard.

It's not to say that there aren't other fantastic tracks on there, such as By The Time I Get Home... and the pop-tastic New Space To Throw, but there's an awful lot that is difficult to detest, but very hard to fall in love with. It also gets rather depressingly similar as the album progresses.

It's one thing to ape the likes of New Order but when you come up with something as, well, average as this you're really setting yourself up for a fall.